There was no need to rig the vote in the Fulham constituency yesterday as a Russian gained a landslide victory in the man-of-the-match polls. Pavel Pogrebnyak's election was a foregone conclusion after he took advantage of abysmal Wolves defending to score a hat-trick which took his tally since arriving at Craven Cottage to five goals in three games.
In an indication of the Premier League's global reach it was a Texan, Clint Dempsey, who scored the other two goals in a rout which sent Wolves back into the bottom three and Fulham up to eighth.
That meets Martin Jol's top-10 target and the Fulham manager purred: "The first half was almost perfect, except we couldn't score for a while." Pogrebnyak, on loan from Stuttgart to the end of the season, broke the dam. Given his rate of scoring, Fulham will face stiff competition for his permanent signature in the summer, when he will be a free agent. "You want to keep your best players and we are talking to four of five," said Jol. "From his first training session he gave us a feeling he wanted to prove a point."
It was far from a one-man show. Fulham were excellent all-round with the unlikely midfield axis of Danny Murphy and Moussa Dembélé dictating play as they did at Loftus Road last week. Whether Jol dare risk them in harness against more demanding opposition remains to be seen but a cameo from new recruit Mahamadou Diarra, released by Real Madrid last year, indicated a viable alternative.
For Terry Connor, Wolves' caretaker to the end of the season, the afternoon was one of unalloyed misery though he claimed, inaccurately, that the match had been even until the opening goal. Wolves' survival chances have been hindered by Emmanuel Frimpong's knee injury and the Arsenal loanee's absence was compounded when Karl Henry suffered a hamstring problem after 19 minutes. With David Edwards already unavailable, Connor was left with a central midfield of Kevin Foley, Nenad Milijas and Jamie O'Hara, decent on the ball, but rarely able to gain possession.
For 36 minutes Fulham peppered Wolves' goal without reward, then the referee, Mike Jones, spotted a faint deflection off Richard Stearman's thigh from a Dembélé shot. Wolves protested vociferously and with their concentration awry Pogrebnyak was able to head in the corner. Eight minutes later Foley played a sloppy pass infield which Stearman, under pressure from Dempsey, could only divert to Pogrebnyak, who released Andy Johnson then swept in the return.
Eleven minutes after the break Wolves switched off at a free-kick, allowing Murphy to play Dempsey in between Ronald Zubar and Christophe Berra to score. Pogrebnyak tapped in the fourth after Wayne Hennessey spilled Johnson's shot from another Murphy pass and Dempsey swept in the fifth after a neat exchange with Diarra and Pogrebnyak.
"We're not the best in the league and we'll always get a bloody nose now and again, it is how we react," said Connor. "We'll now work towards Saturday's game [against Blackburn] and try and win it."
Fulham: SCHWARZER 8/10; HUGHES 8; SENDEROS 7; HANGELAND 7; J RIISE 8; DUFF 8; MURPHY 8; DEMBELE 8; DEMPSEY 8; POGREBNYAK 9; JOHNSON 8
Wolves: HENNESSEY 4; WARD 4; BERRA 3; STEARMAN 3; ZUBAR 4; JARVIS 5; HENRY 5; O'HARA 6; FOLEY 4; KIGHTLY 5; DOYLE 5
Substitutes: Fulham Diarra 8 (Murphy, 69), Davies (Duff, 80), Frei ( Pogrebnyak, 85) . Wolves Milijas 4
( Henry, 19), Fletcher 4 ( Kightly, 61), Hunt ( Foley, 84) .
Booked: Fulham Hangeland . Wolves Berra , Zubar .
Man of the match Pogrebnyak.
Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Fulham 54% Wolves 46%.
Attempts on target: Fulham 19 Wolves 3.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).